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"Work Hard and Be Nice to People"

(By Twyla Howse - Adapt UK Sales Manager)


There is a lot in the press about how lazy Western employees are and if we'd only work harder and longer we'd be more productive. There would be no recession and we'd all be rich.

Wouldn't that be great! But loads of us would already be millionaires because loads of us do work hard. We all know teachers, doctors, lawyers and maybe even a few bankers and MP's that would be disgracefully from all of that working harder - right? And hard work is always rewarded by loads more cash - right? - maybe?

Nice thought. But maybe there is some small morsel of truth in those headlines. The idea of working harder is probably where the confusion lies. What is really wanted is “more bang for their buck”.

The Olympics provided great opportunities for us to see this. All of those amazing athletes - all at the top of their game - and only one can win the prize. Since I can't even run to the post box that's a pretty cheeky analogy to use. But I think it works. Every time you “take your eyes off the prize”, that metaphorical look over your shoulder when you don't have confidence or focus, you lose site of what makes you special - the difference between 1st and 2nd place.

In business, there are rarely second prize winnings. And knowing what your assets are and making them as profitable as possible has been long the prize of successful businesses.

In 1999, Peter Drucker wrote, “The most important, and indeed the truly unique, contribution of management in the 20th century was the fifty-fold increase in the productivity of the manual worker in manufacturing. The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is to similarly increase the productivity of knowledge workers. The most valuable asset of a 20th-century company was its production equipment. The most valuable asset of a 21st century institution (whether business or nonbusiness) will be its knowledge workers and their productivity.” Drucker P.F. (1999) Management Challenges for the 21st Century, Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford.

The challenges in creating an office environment that will rival the developments made through the production environment during the 20th-century are great when you consider that dramatic fifty-fold increase.

So maybe the scary headline writers have a grain of truth in their attention grabbing turn of phrase. If you could up the productivity of your organisation by a fraction of that - it could add up to the difference between a good and a bad year.

Regardless of what we “do” for a living, part of our production equipment is in a “chair” we sit in; at a horizontal surface that acts as a “desk” and in the bits of technology we play with that we can generically sum up as “computers.” It is a well known fact that lighting, heating, ventilation and acoustics as well as the immediate work area are powerful variables that can effect us. And our response to these variables are highly personal.

Comfort is the one area of the office that can be directly related to the productivity of the employee. Those little distractions because it's too noisy, or too hot or we just can't think can add up to a lot of lost time.

These are just some of the factors within the environment that can be identified, measured and if we feel their value is high enough - corrected. What it means is that there are preventable and/or correctable conditions in every office which significantly impact productivity. These factors include but are not limited to discomfort, which may lead to employees being “off task” for extended periods of time or lead to them making errors: lack of organization, poor positioning of task related objects and materials and failure to employ available technologies are some of the varied reasons that can lead to lost time through error, down time and even absenteeism.

In business, all those little unplanned interruptions make office life varied. We can't live without them - that's just human nature. But recognising and minimising them is a variable that can be measured and managed. Chaining employees to the desk is not a positive measure. But making sure that they are physically comfortable and ensuring they feel able and responsible for that comfort can go a long way to keeping them focused for those important extra minutes. Across a large organisation those extra minutes can add up to a lot of additional manpower. And harnessing this lost time can be a powerful and positive change for everyone within the organisation.

So working lean isn't about chaining people to their desks. It's about respecting them as a valuable asset and truly, honestly engaging with them. I don't feel the need to argue for well-designed offices. However I do feel the need to fight for offices that are grounded in good organisational design, strong culture and backed up by clearly identified briefs with measured and tested solutions. These do exist, but they need to be the norm, not the exception.